California Sailing


America's Cup Inspires Next Generation of Sailors

By Craig MacDonald

SAN FRANCISCO--I was at the St. Francis Yacht Club the day Tom Blackaller was enthusiastically celebrated as the skipper of USA, "their" yacht competing for the honor of challenging Australia for the prestigious America's Cup.

Although the colorful and talented Blackaller would lose to fellow American, Dennis Conner, who went on to defeat the Aussies in 1987, he had a vision for the special place he grew up sailing--San Francisco Bay.

If he had beaten Conner and the Aussies, Blackaller wanted to bring the America's Cup to San Francisco Bay and race catamarans.

Even though he passed away in 1989 and was not here to see it, the 34th America's Cup did indeed take place on San Francisco Bay and featured exciting, swift, almost flying catamarans, thanks to Oracle Team USA founder Larry Ellison, who chose both the location and boats as the defender.

The America's Cup Finals, which included the longest series ever and saw Oracle Team USA overcome an 8-1 deficit from challenger Emirates Team New Zealand, may have featured the most exciting finale in its 162-year history.

"A lot of people weren't interested in sailing and now they are," said Oracle Team USA founder Ellison, as overflow crowds of spectators attempted to view the event. "By going to catamarans, we tried to make sailing a bit more extreme and friendlier for the viewing audience."

These races had unique picture graphics, showing which boats were ahead, and special onboard cameras that captured the incredible excitement of the crews "grinding," trimming the sails and darting about on the carbon-fiber foiling vessels, which sometimes "flew" 30-40 knots.

Somehow, Oracle's courageous, optimistic, intelligent, inspirational crew found a way to improve its speed upwind by 90 seconds, which really made a big difference in their ability to overcome deficits and become phenomenal sailing champions on September 25, 2013.

What's being called by many in the media as "The Greatest Comeback in Sport's History," is a dream come true for Ellison, the Oracle Team USA crew and exuberant, flag-waving American fans. I've got to think somewhere, Tom Blackaller was taking in this spectacular spectacle, perhaps offering an assist here and there as only he could. Few knew San Francisco Bay as he did!

One of the goals of Blackaller and Ellison was to inspire the next generation of sailors. They did just that!

(The writer promoted America's Cup and sponsors of Blackaller's USA yacht in 1987 and Dennis Conner's Stars & Stripes yacht in the 1988 America's Cup in San Diego.)

Also read about San Francisco Giants, by C. MacDonald

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